Utah Gov. Gary Herbert carved out an exception to virus restrictions Thursday to allow Salt Lake City schools to fully reopen rather than hold classes online.

The capital city has higher case numbers than most other parts of the state and remains under stricter rules aimed at stopping the spread of the virus. Those rules would have meant online or distance learning rather than in-person classes for Salt Lake students.

But Herbert, a Republican, made an exception. It would allow, but not require, schools to open.

“It is important, I think, that we open our schools. We cannot afford to have schools closed,” he said. Schools are due to have reopening plans complete by Aug. 1, ahead of starting later that month. They are taking additional cleaning and sanitation steps as well as offering distance learning for students who are at higher risk.

Herbert has mandated students and teachers wear masks at schools, and said they will be provided. They won’t need to be worn if people are six feet or more apart, or during lunch time.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, but for some it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.